1. Test the camera at the store (or order from an online shop with a 100% money-back policy)
It doesn't matter if you get a Canon or a Nikon (or some other brand). It does matter - a lot - if you get a camera that does not feel right in your own individual hands. Canons have the command dial in a vertical orientation. Nikons have their command dial(s) on a horizontal one. That's a huge thing. Some prefer it one way, others prefer it another. The camera might feel great on screen, as you read a review online, but only when you take it into your own hands you'll know if it's right for you. Forget reviews about megapixels, ISO, dynamic range and all that fluff*. The first thing you should be worried about it, the first true deal-breaker is ergonomics. A perfect sensor and a bright viewfinder are useless if you can't operate the camera comfortably.
*fluff is a bit strong word, but I simply mean that all DSLR cameras, Nikon or Canon, are marvelous for a beginner and a huge improvement over any compact or phone camera.
2. Your first DSLR must be a cheap camera
I don't care how much money you make, it's not about that. But what you should care about, is getting a camera well-suited for your individual needs. Even if you're familiar with photography in general, if this is your first camera, you should get the entry-level model. End of story. Wanna know why? Because this is how you learn properly about photography. You must miss something to understand why you need it. The beginner photographer doesn't need commander mode, doesn't need bracketing (a function utterly meaningless in the post-film era, revived only because of the more-often-than-not hideous HDR mania), doesn't need 51-point 3D AF tracking. The beginner photographer needs a camera with two modes: A, S, and an exposure compensation button. That's it. I'm oversimplifying perhaps, but only to make a point. Get a cheap camera (like all digital gadgets, their value plummets rapidly) - a used one, even better - and put some moderately good glass in front of it. Want a recommendation? Get the D40 and the 35mm AF-S f/1.8. There's a combo that will cost you less than $200 and it is guaranteed to teach you A LOT about photography. For a more balanced approached, opt for a D3100/D3200 and a kit zoom lens (such as the 18-105VR).
|Getting your first DSLR is a big deal. Make sure you get the one that is right for you|
3. Don't be pressured (by online reviews or sellers) to get a lot at first.
Camera products are made by companies that want to make money - they want to take your money. As a result, they have strategies for making you feel you can have "the better deal" with "just a bit more". Don't be tempted by this. Again, no matter how much money you have, a camera and one lens is all you need at first. Forget packages that include a second lens or a flash. The reason is, these extras are something that a) slows down your progress in learning about photography (the more complexity, the worse when you're a beginner); b) by the time you've learned a bit more about photography and are ready to include other aspects into your technique/style, you'll know that these extras are not exactly cutting-edge. In virtually all cases when an extra flash or lens are offered, they are the most basic external flash (e.g. the SB-400; cannot be part of a CLS system as a master or slave) or a cheap consumer tele lens (e.g. the 55-200 f/4-5.6; also an OK lens, but definitely not what a more advanced photographer has use for). Like with the camera model itself, when you need something else, you'll know it yourself. You certainly don't need it at the beginning.
4. Video? What's that.
This is a tricky point. Current DSLR models have video capability. I am against it. I understand it's a huge selling point, but if you're really, really serious about learning about photography, opt for a bit older model that doesn't have video. If you want video, use your mobile phone. If you want to learn about photography, you don't need a camera model with video capabilities. You might say "well, I don't have to use it". If your camera has it, you will use it, believe me. And then you'll start getting into the bottomless pit of "get this for better sound", "get this for better support", "get this for better light". It's an attractive idea, to become your very own Hollywood videographer. And it has nothing to do with photography...
5. (the most important of them all) Buy a DSLR for the right reasons
Why are you buying a DSLR, by the way? At the beginning of this article I mentioned that you might be feeling limited by your compact camera or phone camera. If that is the case, you also probably know in which way you felt limited (remember point #2: you must miss something in order to understand why you need it). Perhaps you need a camera that allows you fine-tuning of exposure control; or, that it has more responsive autofocus. These are good reasons. Getting a DSLR camera so that you can "start shooting friends' weddings" is the worst possible reason to get a DSLR camera. In fact, I can guarantee you, that your photography will be in fact worse (in terms of results that please you) for the first few days/weeks (this is subjective). It takes time to learn a new piece of equipment. As for taking wedding photos? For goodness's sake, no...Don't be pressured into believing a DSLR camera magically makes you suitable for that. A pro with a mobile phone camera can and will take better photos than a beginner with an expensive DSLR.